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‘Why not use the ... experts?’ — ATF asked to assist with Clark fire investigation

Clark Feed & Seed burns next to ruin of Hohl Feed & Seed

The Bellingham Fire Department responds to a fire July 17, 2019, at Clark Feed & Seed on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham, Wash. The business shares a wall with the ruin of Hohl Feed & Seed, which burned on Feb. 18, 2019.
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The Bellingham Fire Department responds to a fire July 17, 2019, at Clark Feed & Seed on Railroad Avenue in downtown Bellingham, Wash. The business shares a wall with the ruin of Hohl Feed & Seed, which burned on Feb. 18, 2019.

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Clark Feed & Seed, Avalon Records fire

A fire the evening of July 17, 2019, significantly damaged landmark downtown business Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records.

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Bellingham fire investigators last week reached out for assistance from a regional fire investigation team from Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms to assist in determining what caused the three-alarm fire that destroyed Clark Feed & Seed and Avalon Records nearly two weeks ago.

Bellingham Fire assistant chief Jay Comfort said local investigators reached out to the ATF team midday Wednesday, July 24, but said that involvement does not mean the investigation is pointing in any particular direction.

“The ATF investigative team is used regionally, and they have the additional capacity to assist agencies investigate significant-loss fires, such as this,” Comfort told The Bellingham Herald. “That’s all that this group or branch does. They’re really good at what they do, so why not use the subject-matter experts? ... The significance of their involvement is their assistance and their perspective and nothing beyond that.”

Comfort said the team’s expertise is certainly needed in this investigation into the fire, which broke out in the building on the evening of July 17.

Though he said investigators have been been able to narrow the point or general area of origin to the second floor of the feed and seed store, finding the specific cause has proven to be difficult.

“With this type of investigation, with the nature of the fire, smoke and water damage, there’s no guarantee we’re going to get an obvious cause,” Comfort said.

Comfort said the next step in the investigation this week will likely be doing in-depth interviews with employees and anyone else who might have information about the fire to see if they any more details beyond what was gained in early questioning that could uncover how the fire started.

Investigators from Bellingham, ATF and insurance companies have still been the only people allowed in what remains of the structure, Comfort said.

Shortly after the fire, the Facebook page for Clark Feed & Seed said a handful of the fish that the store was known for were rescued from outside the building. But the status of any others was not known.

Though he has not been inside the building first-hand, Comfort said Monday he was “confident there’s likely little or no fish surviving in there.”

According to social media posts on Facebook and Reddit, there are plans to hold a memorial for the fish that died in the fire at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 4, at the Boulevard Park beach.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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